I have a problem. I collect recipes from magazines. Each month I get Bon Appetit, Cooking Light, Food Network Magazine, etc. and I rip out pages of recipes I'd like to make, adding them to a stack on my kitchen counter, which has now grown to about 2 feet high. I'd like a solution to this problem, but I realize that just about any fix (whether digital or physical) is going to require sorting through that mess, so the pile just gets higher and higher.
I was reading about life-sourcing the other day, so I thought about using a service like TaskRabbit to get the task completed. Companies like this specialize in matching small jobs with qualified people willing to bid on and execute the work. As long as the requirements are well defined, there's no reason why someone else couldn't do this.
My big limitation is that I need someone physically here to sort through the pile. If it were a task that could be completed virtually, I'd have even more options to outsource. Companies like Fiverr, oDesk, Freelancer and Getacoder.com pull together resources from around the world, with skills that extend from data mining to graphic design, to complete work at your direction.
It seems that access to quality resources is virtually limitless these days, and costs are falling as supply is rising. I started thinking about whether this crowd-sourcing model could be applied effectively in a business environment. Especially when it comes to repetitive computing or programming tasks, ones where the requirements, expectations and durations are well established, it appears that this approach could really reduce the cost of executing a project or maintaining a system. This approach gives project managers the flexibility to expand the size and mix of expertise of a virtual project team as demands change. With an average price of between $30 and $200 per task, and each task having a fixed bid for a fixed output, this could be the wave of the future for staffing IT projects at a reduced cost.
How would this approach apply to Agile development? When it comes to Agile, it is critical to have everyone you work with familiar with your application of Agile, and the tools used to manage project work. Working in an Agile team depends a lot on trust and relationships, so it would be ideal to work with someone frequently, rather than bidding out tasks randomly to the universe each time you need to supplement your staff. Detailed requirements at the task level support sourcing of this kind, so it could work for Agile, but it's all about the management. But then, isn't it always?
One way this virtual outsourcing model is working for many organizations is in support of new product development. Now that so many products and services are being delivered via technology, there is an increased demand for the development of user interfaces. If project owners are able to provide detailed style sheets, experience expectations and so on, there are skilled, low cost graphics and web designers ready to tackle the jobs.
I believe that companies should plan for crowd-sourcing to grow in prevalence in business environments, and that project management tools (Agile or otherwise) need to evolve to support teams that may not be as familiar with each other as they have in the past. Management will become even more important, and companies may want to start small (a single sprint?) to test the efficacy of the approach in their unique environments. There is risk involved, but the potential for improved efficiency and reduced costs makes it worth a test drive.
P.S. If you're interested in sorting through some recipes in the New Orleans area, let me know your bid and we'll go from there.